Parris Glendening's career has beaten some long odds; Candidate: Parris N. Glendening has risen above family struggles to become governor. Tuesday, he will announce his bid for a second term.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In his earliest memory, Parris Glendening sits afraid on a stone wall in North Carolina, far from home.

The family's truck has crashed during a long-distance move to Florida, their belongings lost. Four-year-old Parris waits outside a clinic, his eye splashed with gasoline.

It is a nightmarish snapshot of an early life defined by poverty and touched often by heartache -- a life Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening has diligently left behind.

As Jerry Church, his blunt-spoken step-grandfather, put it: "Parris has pulled himself out of a terrible mess."

Tuesday, Glendening will formally launch his bid for a second four-year term as governor -- a campaign in which his integrity and record will come under relentless attack.

But none of his opponents will be able to undo a simple truth: Win or lose, Glendening has already beaten the long odds of his life.

The governor acknowledges that his approach to public service -- his firm belief that government can and should help those who need it -- was forged in his family's struggles in South Florida.

His family, so poor that the six children sometimes went without food, regained its footing in part with a government loan Glendening's father used to start his business. A mentally retarded brother received care from the state. Another brother lost a battle with AIDS. And Parris, a machinist's son, received scholarships that propelled him to a doctorate at a public university -- the only member of his family to go beyond high school.

"These things kind of define who I am," Glendening, 56, said recently during a rare interview at his comfortable brick home in a leafy neighborhood near College Park.

"From my perspective, I just wanted to get out of that poverty," he said. "There's nothing wrong with being poor. There is something wrong with not having the opportunity not to be poor."

As Glendening prepares for what could be his last campaign, he seems far removed from his past. He remains upbeat, appearing to cherish life with his wife and son in a family that bears little resemblance to the one his parents built.

"I am going to win, I really believe that," Glendening said. "But I think about where I came from and here I am -- governor. Not wealthy, but economically secure. What's the worst that can happen?"

Starting from scratch

Glendening was born in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1942, the first son and second child of Raymond and Jean Glendening. The name Parris was borrowed from a movie character -- Dr. Parris, the gentlemanly physician in "Kings Row," the 1941 potboiler that starred Ronald Reagan.

When his father's gas station business collapsed, the bankrupt family decided in 1946 to move to Miami to be near Jean Glendening's mother and stepfather.

They piled their belongings into a truck and headed south. In North Carolina, the truck overturned -- young Parris' first memory.

"The family was OK," Glendening said, "but everything was lost."

Starting from scratch, the Glendenings settled just outside Miami in Hialeah -- a neighborhood Glendening described as "poor rough" -- in a shack across the road from a quarry.

The house had only a front porch, a living room and a kitchen. Chickens roamed the yard, and there was a single light bulb in the kitchen with electricity stolen from a neighbor. An outhouse stood out back -- a frightening place that attracted snakes and left a lasting impression on the children.

"You had all these cobwebs in there. It was scary," recalled Lynne Craker, Glendening's older sister, who still lives in the area in a trailer home decorated with jigsaw puzzles she put together.

Glendening's mother was a demanding woman who had, it seems, little interest in her six children, preferring to listen to crooner Nelson Eddy, play bingo or go fishing. She insisted the children call her "Jean" and was jealous of their successes, family members say.

"She felt like the whole world owed her a living," said Church, Jean Glendening's stepfather, now retired from the orchid business and living in the small town of Okeechobee, Fla. "She would sit home and holler until she got it."

Parris, nicknamed "Pee-Wee" because of his small stature until a late growth spurt, never caused trouble. "He was afraid to antagonize his mother," Church said.

But he was a hero to his younger siblings, remembers his sister, April Paulin.

"We would play King of the Hill, and Parris was always the king," said Paulin, 50, a gunnery sergeant in the Marines stationed in Japan. "Parris was always the one we looked up to."

Parris' father, Raymond, was a tall quiet man who worked two jobs -- at a gas station and in a machine shop. On weekends, he delivered milk, giving Parris a chance to spend time with him.

"We would take a few crackers from home and have cottage cheese and crackers," Glendening said. "It was pretty neat."

Such moments were surely rare.

The Glendenings' second son, Nelson, two years younger than Parris, was born mentally retarded. He suffered from repeated seizures and became an unmanageable burden, family members say.

Eventually, the family sent Nelson to a state-run institution on the other side of Florida for a while. While that would not be the preferred treatment today, Glendening says it was a major help to the family then.

In all, the Glendenings had six children, including twins, Bruce and April, and another son, Dana. Fifteen years younger than Parris, Dana was known as "Eggy" because his mother thought he looked like an egg when he was born. He, too, had learning disabilities, family members say.

During Parris Glendening's childhood, there was no money for ++ frills such as vacations.

Raymond Glendening did manage to buy a small lot in Hialeah and, with the help of friends and relatives, build a house complete with indoor plumbing.

A few years later, the family took another step up, buying a bigger house in a modest neighborhood in West Hollywood.

Parris enrolled at Fort Lauderdale's Central Catholic High School, a one-story stucco building where nuns in full habit kept strict order over a student body that was all white.

In his spare time, Parris sold magazine subscriptions door-to-door and worked at a drug store.

If there were any girlfriends for Parris in high school, his sisters don't remember them.

By the time Parris was a teen-ager, his father had set up his own machine shop, a moderately successful business that made spare parts for airplanes. It was also the place where, his mother insisted, Parris' future lay. But Parris resisted the notion of going into work he found noisy and repetitious.

"My mother did not want me to go to college," Glendening said. She even refused to sign documents he needed to receive a scholarship. "She said I ought to go out and start earning a living right then. I felt very strongly about it."

Recalled his sister April: "Parris got a scholarship. She was surprised he was that smart."

Consummate juggler

Tired of the battles with his mother and distracted by a house full of younger children, Glendening moved out during his senior year in high school, sleeping at first in the stock room of the drug store.

He enrolled at Broward County's new junior college, sharing a $15-per-week, one-bedroom apartment in a West Hollywood duplex with another student, and commuting to school on a motorized bicycle.

The apartment became a party spot for other students who were still living at home, with poker games most nights until 11 p.m.

"I would go to bed," recalled roommate Lou Giacobazzi, who still lives in Broward County and works for the Postal Service. "Parris stayed up for a couple of hours to study."

After receiving his associate's degree, Glendening enrolled at Florida State University, studying political science in hopes of pursuing a career in the Foreign Service.

He also met an older nursing student, Lydia Shaw, whom Glendening remembers as "very attractive." In April 1963, they were married in a small ceremony at a Catholic church in Hollywood. Glendening was 20 years old.

L His professors remember him as a gifted and serious student.

"My thought was Parris was born in a black suit and a tie and never took it off," said Doug St. Angelo, the professor who was Glendening's dissertation adviser.

But a small group of graduate students became friends with the tall, thin guy with glasses.

"He has this image of being a nerd and everything," said John Wesley White, a graduate student with Glendening who later worked for him in the Prince George's County government. "For people who didn't get to know him, they would say that."

After studying through the evening, Glendening spent many late nights drinking beer at Red Smith's Cellar Lounge, a honky-tonk favored by graduate students and truck drivers.

In college, Glendening was the consummate juggler -- balancing school work, outside jobs and late-night socializing -- each of them neatly compartmentalized, friends recall.

Glendening and his tight circle of friends were not involved in the budding civil rights movement in Tallahassee, but did take a shot at student government politics.

At the bar one night, they launched the New Party, with a goal of giving graduate students more say in campus government.

In Glendening's first political deal, the New Party formed an alliance with an established party during campus elections. When their candidate was elected president, Glendening was rewarded with a Cabinet post.

The other students got involved mainly as an academic exercise. "Parris seemed to thrive on it," recalled Mary Alice Phelan, of Jacksonville, a close friend from college.

Glendening sailed through Florida State, with the worst moment coming around Memorial Day 1966, when his 49-year-old father died after suffering a heart attack during a trip to the beach.

In 1967, at the age of 25, Glendening earned a Ph.D. -- at the time, the youngest student ever to receive a doctorate in political science there.

Move to Maryland

American cities were beginning to implode, and Glendening, who had specialized in urban studies, was a hot job prospect. He turned down several job offers to come to the University of Maryland.

He and Lydia moved north to College Park in 1967. A year later, they separated. The divorce -- on the grounds of "irreconcilable differences" -- was final in 1971.

"I was young. I tended to be reserved and shy, and I hadn't dated a lot," Glendening said in explaining how the marriage collapsed. "The divorce was peaceful in the sense we both recognized it wasn't going to work out."

The early 1970s found Glendening once again single, far from Florida, and this time with some money in his pocket. He drove a silver Jaguar and taught political science to hundreds of students each semester.

Among them was Frances Anne Hughes, the daughter of a prominent Republican political family from Western Maryland. "I noticed her right away," Glendening said. "She was a very beautiful woman."

On their first outing, Glendening took Frances Anne on a trip he had to make to a local sewage treatment plant. On their first real date, to a fancy restaurant in Northern Virginia, a mortified Glendening found he had left his wallet at home.

In 1976, after a five-year courtship, the two married in a Cumberland society wedding that drew hundreds.

About the time he got involved with Frances Anne, Glendening also took a stab at politics.

As a kid, Glendening said, he could remember talking presidential politics with his father -- he for Adlai Stevenson, his // dad for Dwight D. Eisenhower. But aside from his brush with campus politics in Tallahassee, Glendening had not done anything political since.

Glendening makes no claim that his family's travails inspired him to go into public service. "I just kind of got involved when I came up here [to Maryland]," Glendening said. "I kind of believe if you teach, you ought to do. The opportunity opened up, so I did it."

In his first time on the ballot, he came in 12th in a race for 11 seats on the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee.

In 1973, he rebounded, winning an appointment to fill a vacancy on the Hyattsville Town Council. Opportunities continued to present themselves, and Glendening took them -- going to the Prince George's County Council and then on to 12 years as county executive, before his election as governor four years ago.

In the quarter-century since that first run for political office, Glendening -- the one his mother said wasn't even college material -- has not lost an election.

Loose ties

Over many years, Glendening's ties to South Florida have gradually unraveled.

His mother died in 1984, and he grew apart from most of his family -- staying closest to twins Bruce and April, both of whom had joined the military.

While Parris was the family's brain, Bruce Glendening may have been its heart. Dark-haired and handsome, he came home often from his Air Force assignments to visit siblings and help his mother.

Glendening says his younger brother was gay and "constantly afraid" that Air Force officials would find out. In 1993, five years after leaving the Air Force, Bruce died of AIDS. It was an excruciating death in a Miami military hospital, Glendening says.

"All he wanted was to go home and die," the governor said, his voice slow and unsteady at the memory. "He was in such pain."

Bruce's death -- and its cause -- seemed to exacerbate Glendening's estrangement from South Florida.

"Some parts of the family didn't want to acknowledge why he died," Glendening said.

Today, Parris Glendening has little contact with his relatives remaining down South and hasn't visited since Bruce's funeral five years ago.

Thanks to medication, Nelson Glendening has held down a janitorial job at a Hollywood, Fla., bowling alley for 15 years, going to and from work by bicycle. He lives alone, although he often spends time with his older sister, Lynne, who lives nearby and works washing glassware for a drug company.

Youngest brother Eggy -- Dana Glendening, who also lives in the Fort Lauderdale area -- works as a cashier at an Indian casino.

Of his four living siblings, only April made the trip to Annapolis for her brother's inauguration in 1995.

Glendening seems resigned to the fact that a gulf separates him from much of his family.

"Families just kind of go in different directions," he said. "I don't know if Bruce and April and I had an extra dose of ambition, or in terms of genes, a real drive in our lives.

"My other brothers and sister are good people, but they view life just a little differently."

Pub Date: 6/14/98

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
70°